If you told Josh Carter three years ago that he would be touring two continents and playing in front of a sea of people at the 2012 Bonaroo Festival, he wouldn’t have believed you. In that short amount of time, he and his partner in crime, Sarah Barthel have carried Phantogram from a garage pet-project to a full-blown indie-pop stardom.
Phantogram released its first record, Eyelid Movies, in September 2009, months after being signed to the Seattle-based Barsuk Records. The album was an instant success, shooting out the popular jams “Mouthful of Diamonds,” “When I’m Small,” and “As Far As I Can See.”
“When we did Eyelid Movies, we had just started as a band. I had all these ideas, as far as what kind of sound I wanted to do for this band,” said Carter. “A lot of people say they have all the time in the world to make their first record, which is true, but for us, we just [wrote something] that we wanted to hear, without knowing that we were going to have any fans at all.”
Over the next two years, Phantogram was in a constant state of motion. They were on a constant tour circuit, spanning the US and Canada, and even finding themselves overseas in Europe. Then, in November 2011, they released a new EP, titled Nightlife. Although it wasn’t a full-length release, the mini-record is a matured representation of how Carter and Barthel intend their music to be presented.
“Most of our music is written at night, and there is this cinematic quality to most of the songs on Nightlife,” said Carter. “To me, at least, it comes across as a bit heavier in the emotional sense.”
This developed personality was now turning heads, eventually finding regular rotation in the home of Michelle Coyne, wife of the famous Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips.
“We did that and Wayne told us that his wife was always playing this band around the house and he was always asking who it was, but he’d always forget. So for months he just heard it playing around the house, until he finally wrote it down and to remember who we were. And then just decided to ask us to warm up for them.”
Carter, Barthel, and touring drummer Tim Oakley, opened for the Lips in Oklahoma City, along with the Yoko Ono Band. From there, a relationship began to grow between the two bands, resulting in them coming together to perform a cover of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, as well as some recent collaborative effort for the next Flaming Lips release.
“It’s really crazy because I grew up on the Flaming Lips,” said Carter. “To have a band like the Flaming Lips really admire your work is really a head-trip. It’s a huge honour.”
Many bands attribute this rapid growth in popularity to hard work, networking and growing a fan-base on the Internet. But Carter never went hands-on to promote Phantogram on the web.
“I don’t know because I’m not really good at using the internet. Mainly, I just go on eBaumsworld.com and watch stupid videos,” said Carter. “I’m sure it has a lot to do with the popularity of many bands. That’s how I find a lot of my music. I don’t know how else we would have been able to make it to Europe. Our first tour in Europe was two years ago, and I don’t know how we would have even been able to play shows there without the Internet.”
Phantogram is playing at Venue on July 25.
By Brad MichelsonBC, British Columbia